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Faster-Than-Light Travel
aka: Faster Than Light

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Up yours, Einstein!

"There was a young woman named Bright
Whose speed was much faster than light.
She set out one day
In a relative way,
And returned on the previous night."
A. H. Reginald Buller
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Faster-Than-Light Travel is a staple of Space Opera that allows an "out" to the unfortunate fact that space is honking big, making it impossible (within physics as we understand it now) to get anywhere remotely interesting within the average lifetime of a civilization. This has been an issue for writers since The '50s or so; before then you could get away with having your aliens come from Neptune without totally losing the audience.note 

Today, it is widely understood that in order for the protagonists to be able to plausibly visit a new Planet of Hats every week, they need to travel through space at speeds faster than that of light itself. The problem is that as far as present-day science is concerned, going faster than — or even just as fast as — the speed of light is, for all human intents and purposes, impossible. See Analysis for more of this. Of course, writers may wave away the issues surrounding FTL travel by invoking incredible advances in future technology, or they may simply not worry about the complications too much at all.

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In either case, explaining how people may travel from Earth to the edge of the Galaxy in less than an hour will generally involve equipping a Cool Starship with some kind of "exotic" propulsion system, which, approximately, holds the normal laws of physics in abatement. This is the Faster Than Light Drive. The exact mechanism varies, but more detailed works may explain how the system avoids the lightspeed limitation. There are three broad favorites:

  • "Warp" drives: Ship waves hands very very fast and can thus go faster.
    • Technobabble: These work by bending the laws of physics in a limited bubble around the ship, where the space is warped in some strange way so the Einstein limit doesn't apply. Distinguished by the ship still traveling in normal space just like a conventional drive, with all the hazards that may entail. Only to an outside observer it would appear the ship is moving impossibly fast. Most notably used in Star Trek where the warp drive actually compresses space in front of the ship while stretching it out behind it. Some simplify it as the ship is riding a wave (warp) of space, not unlike how a surfboard rides a wave of water.
  • "Jump" drives: Ship disappears and reappears elsewhere.
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    • Technobabble: exploiting the curvature of spacetime in some way to instantly move a ship from one location to another. Functionally, a ship using one does not travel faster than light; instead, they alter the distance that has to be traveled, generally to about zero. Sometimes called "fold drives" (from the analogy of folding a piece of paper to make two distant points adjacent). As the range is rarely unlimited the ship typically moves in a series of "jumps", needing some time to recharge or re-calibrate its engine between jumps, but the jump itself is generally instant making this technically the fastest method. Oddly enough this rarely uses Teleportation Tropes excepting perhaps Tele-Frag, as those are personal tropes. Notably used in Dune. See also Our Wormholes Are Different and Cool Gate for variants.
  • Hyperdrives: Ship leaves local space and goes into another dimension where it can go faster. Usually called "X"space, with X usually being "Hyper" or whatever the drive is called (so a Zerodrive takes you to Zerospace etc...)
    • Technobabble: Since the ship can't travel faster than light, it enters Another Dimension instead. Maybe the laws of physics are different so you can go faster than light there. Or perhaps hyperspace has weird topography so that by traveling for a day there you can reenter the real universe thousands of light-years from where you started. Because travel still takes time it may take a trip in hyperspace exactly as long as it needs to but is still not instant. Has decent odds of being a scary place with its own hazards to manage. Most notable example can be found in Star Wars, though the picture above is actually only of entering hyperspace.

Sometimes, FTL travel is only possible between specific points — the entrances to wormholes, for example, or alien artifacts that can accelerate ships to FTL speeds (it's reasonably common for this to be the leftovers of an ancient galaxy-spanning civilization, often functioning as a Portal Network). This approach to the trope often means that the ship itself isn't actually required to have any Applied Phlebotinum on-board; on the other hand, sometimes a ship will have its own FTL drive, but can only use it at certain special locations scattered throughout the universe. The actual Technobabble explanation for FTL travel in works that use this "restricted" flavor of the trope can still fit into any of the above categories. The important distinction from a story-telling perspective is that our protagonists first have to use conventional, comparatively slow travel to reach some special location before they can warp away across the galaxy. This may lead to the existence of "choke points" where Standard Starship Scuffles may take place, or tension-building delays during a trip. Hyperspace Lanes may or may not apply: it may be that each "warp point", whatever its nature, connects to just one, or a few other locations, but it could also be that once a ship manages to reach a place where FTL is possible, it can then jump wherever it pleases. This concept can also be seen as the inverse of the No Warping Zone. Sometimes, a "restricted" style of FTL will occur side-by-side with the more general form of the trope; for example, characters may use their ship's self-sufficient warp drive to travel to a few neighbouring planets, but may need to reach a special wormhole to access some really remote and mysterious location.

Whatever the nature and form of FTL travel, many works will try to come up with some appropriately snappy name for it. The most generic term for an FTL drive is probably the "hyperdrive", but many books and series come up with their own terminology. It should be noted that any particular name used for FTL travel does not necessarily have to correspond to a specific means of travel as described earlier in this article. In Star Trek the Warp Drive is of course just a warp drive, but in Warhammer 40,000 the "Warp" is the poster-child for Hyperspace Is a Scary Place, for example. Similarly, Babylon 5 used the term "Jump Drive" to describe moving in and out of an alternative dimension, hyperspace, where ships could cross interstellar distances in a short time, rather than instantaneous travel between two points in real-space. Different stories' FTL drives should be distinguished by their effects, not simply their names.

From a Troper's perspective, the story-telling implications of the type of FTL travel used in a work are usually more important than the technobabble behind it. For example, Jump or Hyperdrives may provide a very easy (but often dramatic) way to escape an antagonist because it is usually hard for anyone to track a ship that just disappears; exactly what Applied Phlebotinum allows the ship to do so is less significant. A Warp Drive, on the other hand, usually does not allow the same escape option; we may get a Stern Chase, instead. Again, how the Warp Drive works isn't too important here; all we need to know is whether the protagonists can simply leap light-years away from the Big Bad at the touch of a button, or whether a dramatic chase scene is in store.

Often, the exact mechanism by which FTL is achieved is only important insofar as it supports various kinds of Phlebotinum Breakdown. And in some series, the mechanism is simply ignored; we just assume that it works and that we shouldn't worry about relativity. At most, some form of Unobtainium may be mentioned to circumvent Einstein's laws. For works on the harder end of sci-fi, on the other hand, the science behind FTL may be more important, and the author may go to great lengths to develop consistent rules for FTL and explore all of the technology's implications.

Exotic FTL drives also give us an "out" against inertia: Since the laws of physics are being held in abeyance, we can safely assume that if the drive breaks, the laws of physics reassert themselves, so it is impossible to "coast" at superluminal velocities (see Space Friction). Thus, we can effectively ensure that Space Is an Ocean.

It is generally assumed that FTL travel is for travel between star systems and furthermore, it is the only viable means of travel between stars. Conversely, subluminal, conventional travel is for use within a star system: FTL too close to anything that has gravity tends to be ruled out as dangerous (No Warping Zones often provide justifications). The need to reach a safe distance to use FTL is the stuff of countless space chase scenes, most commonly escaping a planet's gravity well.

Faster-Than-Light Travel is generally considered a necessary break from physics if you want to have a Space Opera (though this was much less true in The Golden Age Of Science Fiction, when it could still be safely assumed that alien civilizations flourished as nearby as Mars, Venus, or even the Moon). A more extreme version, found in Space Operas and other places, is Casual Interstellar Travel. A setting without Faster Than Light Travel involving a trip between planets, usually in a single star system, is an Interplanetary Voyage.

Similarly, Faster-Than-Light Travel is usually a technology that cannot operate without the presence of plot-relevant individuals, as it's hard to tell entertaining stories about unmanned probes - all Real Life space exploration is done thus, and holds interest for relatively few people.

A related trope is the Subspace Ansible, which allows ships to send messages at superluminal speeds without having to send their engines along with them; this trope will usually be found alongside Faster-Than-Light Travel, though there are exceptions (for example, Andromeda, Honor Harrington, and the Vorkosigan Saga have FTL travel but no ansibles, and Ender's Game has ansibles but no FTL travel — though the series that inspired it, Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish Cycle, did have FTL travel in addition to ansibles, it was just that humans couldn't survive it).

In FTL settings, an Everything Sensor will usually operate in some FTL manner to allow the ship to detect plot-related events happening light-minutes or light-years away in real time. Distress Calls are a function of the aforementioned ansible, but when the ship can casually detect "enemy" ships from light-years away, just as casually mosey on over and ask what they're doing in their territory, yet must enter a given star system to study it for plot-related reasons, a great deal of hand-waving is in order.

Both these tropes have many of the same difficulties with known physics as Faster-Than-Light Travel itself. Beyond the simple fact that relativity implies it's impossible, it also shows that something traveling faster than light must appear to some observers to be traveling backwards in time, and even being able to send information backwards in time produces logical difficulties like the Grandfather Paradox.

Even though going faster than light is already extreme in itself, some actually take it Up to Eleven with Ludicrous Speed, where traveling at such speeds results in usually unpleasant side effects.

For the record, c, the speed of light in a vacuum, is 299,792,458 meters per second.note  This works out to 670,616,629.38 mph, 1,079,252,848.80 km/h, or about 900,000 times the speed of sound on Earth. It's not just a good idea, it's the law! This only holds true for the speed of light in a vacuum. Photons traveling through various translucent gaseous, crystalline or liquid media move at large fractions of the speed of light. However, other particles may move faster than these photons, leading to phenomena such as Cherenkov radiation. Despite its speed, light imparts very little impact due to light having negligible mass — remember you yourself block the light slamming into you at that speed and create a shadow with no ill effects.

If your eyes kinda went fuzzy and glazed over the above Wall of Text: Most Writers Are Writers, not scientists or mathematicians. Understanding the things that happen as you approach the speed of light is so perplexing that it took great minds years to figure it out — but it takes no training to make up a story that happens in space. Tropes Are Not Bad, so writers will merely say you can go faster than light in their fictional universe, or make things in the universe close, like making planets akin to cities in a county.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Cowboy Bebop had the portal variety called Gates, which were apparently dangerous because something called the "Gate Incident" made the moon explode. They created subspace of some fashion where things went faster and ships could get stuck in if they didn't leave in time. Like a lot of things in Bebop, it was never fully explained.
  • In Space Dandy, it is explained that the warp drive on Dandy's ship doesn't actually move the ship at all. Rather, it transfers the consciousness of whoever is inside the ship into their same body in an alternate universe, with the only difference in the entire universe being that the ship and the people inside happen to already be where they wanted to go.
  • In Outlaw Star, as a clever nod to science fiction's past, the "sub-ether" drive is powered by a "Munchausen reactor". This is a type of hyperdrive.
  • Macross:
    • The original Super Dimension Fortress Macross (and its Robotech adaptation) uses the title spaceship's jump drive as a major plot point, and actually demonstrated that if you had an FTL drive and could safely use it within a star system, you probably would, because even interplanetary distances can be inconveniently large. The SDF-1 travels from Earth to Pluto's orbit in minutes, but needs two years to get back to Earth using a gravity-assist technique through normal space. The latter is quite plausible, as the outer Solar System is bignote .
    • FTL travel in the series itself seems to be a combination of Jump and Hyperdrive types. Space folding is done by going into "superdimension space." Later series introduce "Fold Faults", which are obstacles in superdimensional space (implied to be warped space-time of some sort), and establishes that space folds have limited range: long distance (on the order of thousands of light years) folds eat up a lot of power, such that ships need to spend weeks recovering the resources to make such a jump again.
    • Macross Frontier reveals that all Fold technology in the series is derived from a space-faring species known as the Vajra, who are able to do it naturally, without the aid of technology. Their living Fold systems are still much more advanced than the ones in use by humanity and Zentraedi: fold faults don't seem to be as big a problem for them, and they can make extreme long-range jumps in a fraction of the time.
  • Seikai no Monshou (Crest of the Stars) and its sequels use "plane space", a two-dimensional hyperspace in which the spaceships must be inside an artificially-generated 3-dimensional rolling space-time bubble to exist normally. The spin and tilt of the bubble determine its speed and direction. The planar universe is accessed via gates (saudec) that, when they are closed, can be moved and appear to be indefinitely energy-releasing particles (uanon) which were used to propel human spaceships before their other capacities were discovered.
  • In Space Runaway Ideon, the Solo Ship and Buff Clan ships had the DS (Dimension Space) Drive as a way of performing faster-than-light travel. However, it functioned more in the likeness of wormhole travel (in which one uses or creates a tunnel through space-time that creates a normally physically impossible "portal" between two points in space) than hyperspace.
  • The Yamato in Space Battleship Yamato is outfitted with a Wave Motion Engine (also powers their Super-Cool Giant Laser Beam) but abusing it could screw them over (meaning they can only use it for limited amounts of time in short intervals). Warping is a mind-blowing experience for the uninitiated, and may lead to either hallucinations or oddly specific existence failures (Yuki's clothing briefly disappears during the first warp; this never happens to any of the male characters; and of course it doesn't happen at all in the American version).
  • Starship Operators has a warp/jump drive. It operates like jump drive/wormhole, and normally cannot be used in area with high gravity.
  • Used by default by the eponymous mecha in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. It's ten million light years tall but moves and fights normally on a human timescale, so every part of it moves much, much faster than light every time it so much as budges. The method used is pure Hot-Blooded badass.
    • The Super Galaxy Dai-Gurren also has something akin to a hyperspace drive. Its guidance and power requirements are taken care of by the main character's flaming awesomeness (read: Hot-Blooded badass).
  • In the Tenchi Muyo! OVAverse when fighting Z, Tenchi travels from Earth to Saturn within a fraction of a second. This is justified in that he is the being that made the three Goddesses that made the universe.
  • Generally not present in Gundam due to the franchise's more "realistic" take on science fiction, but the idea has popped up a few times: The ∀ Gundam and the 00 Raiser are capable of instantaneous teleportation, generally over short, tactical distances. The 00 Raiser's successor, the 00 Qan[T], was then designed to use this for full-scale faster than light travel.
  • In Legend of Galactic Heroes, faster-than-light travel is achieved via "warp drives", which actually function more like "jump" drives in the trope description.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's, played straight in episode 145 after Yusei defeats Antinomy/Bruno they both end up being trapped within the black hole created earlier (which is itself impossible). After an emotional speech by Antinomy/Bruno, he proceeds to adjust his D-wheel and push it into Yusei's to gain enough escape velocity (also impossible once inside the event horizon) and/or open up a hyperdrive window. The title of the episode itself ("Faster than Light!") perhaps lampshaded this trope.
  • Lily C.A.T. still has the journey to their destination taking twenty years both ways, thus necessitating a Sleeper Starship.
  • Lyrical Nanoha has Dimension Space where ships, both civilian and military, go if people want to travel between planets. This place also where the TSAB Navy and Precia Testarossa's lair is located. There is also Precia's theory that the path to the legendary lost city of Al Hazard is located within Dimension Space.

    Comic Books 
  • In Warren Ellis' Orbiter, the shuttle's FTL drive is heavily implied to be Alcubierre Drive (the name's not stated, but the picture of the warp field and the name Alcubierre was mentioned, and the theoretical explanation fits Alcubierre drive, except that starting and stopping is far easier).
  • DC Comics uses this every so often.
    • Kyle Rayner has traversed the entire universe in a span of a few months, as well as traveling back and forth between Oa and Earth multiple times. Other Lanterns have done the same, but not nearly as much as Kyle has.
    • The Zeta Beam is primarily Adam Strange's method of FTL travel.
    • In the New Gods there's the Boom Tube Gauntlet, that allows instantaneous travel to planets as far away as Apokolips and New Genesis.
    • The Flash has done this more than once.
    • Superman routinely could fly faster than the speed of light between the late Golden Age through the end of the Bronze Age, usually to travel across space. Said ability was also used (similar to the Flash's means) to allow Superman to travel through time. Post-Crisis, Superman was usually limited to sublight speeds, though some stories seemed to forget/ignore this and show him flying across vast distances of space without anyone on Earth noticing an absurdly-long absence.
      • An 80s Superboy story shows him making use of a wormhole early in his career to fly across space.
      • Similarly, Kal-El's ship that brought him to Earth was equipped with a warp drive engine.
  • The 1980s British science fiction comic Starblazer had a wide variety of star drives in its stories, including warp drives and warp gates, traveling through hyperspace with hyperdrives, using natural wormholes, Worm Hole Drive (creating artificial wormholes) and Omega Drive (artificially created black holes).
  • In Tank Vixens the "Credibilty Drive" relies on the crew being gullible enough to warp the universe. It's really just a dressed-up VCR that plays a video of hyperspace lines on the monitors followed by their destination. However, when a tape of Gone with the Wind is played by accident they end up Trapped in TV Land.
  • In Pouvoirpoint the ship Entreprise-2061 makes use of FTL jumps several times during the journey from Earth to Alpha Centauri, producing each time psychedelic effects and giving space sickness to the main character.
  • In Marvel Comics, Quasar wears the Quantum Bands which were created by Eon for the Protector of the Universe. Eon would routinely bestow the bands on each new agent she chose to act as Protector. Among other things, they enable him to quantum jump or create small apertures between the fabric of space/time in the actual world of matter and energy and the potential world of matter and energy that is the quantum zone. He can then travel through this trackless featureless zone and emerge at a different point in our physical space. His quantum-bands enable him to keep his bearings while in the zone and thus emerge where he wants to. He can cross countless light years in a single jump, if he so desires. Important note, however, he cannot quantum-jump in an atmosphere without ripping a huge hole in its ozone layer. Thus using it for teleportation on Earth is out of the question.

    Fan Works 
  • In Thousand Shinji, the explicit lack thereof due to the C'tan's machinations closing off the Warp -an alternate dimension that was used to travel faster than light- and the consequences of this is what forced the [[Warhammer 40,000} gods to work together.
  • In Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!, Kal-El's spaceship is equipped with a powerful warp drive that allowed it to arrive on Earth shortly after his birth. It is also the reason why it was able to land on Earth at all, as Alan Scott would have blasted it out of the sky otherwise.

    Films — Animation 
  • Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius: the kids apparently manage to travel 3 million light years in what amounts to about a day.
  • The whole plot of the anime short subject Voices of a Distant Star stems from the fact that the first United Nations space armada (where the protagonist serves) has faster-than-light drives but no means of faster-than-light communication. The dub very slightly implies that it's some kind of time dilation instead, because they failed to translate the newspapers, prominently displayed on the table, where headlines, basically, explain it all. (And, indeed, one newspaper's side-column contains the particularly mean-spirited revelation that FTL communication was actually invented shortly after the armada jumped out of range.)

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Star Wars:
  • Spaceballs spoofs the aforementioned Star Wars with the Ludicrous Speed drive, which instead of the star trail line effect, creates a plaid effect around the ship and is often seen to overshoot its destination. The speed indicator lights showed another speed, "Ridiculous Speed", nestled in between Light Speed and Ludicrous Speed. One is given to wonder what would have become of our heroes in the Winnebago had Dark Helmet opted to chase them at only Ridiculous Speed. The heroes themselves user Hyper Jets to go into "Hyper-Active."
  • Ernest Saves Christmas spoofs Star Wars's hyperdrive — Santa's sleigh is capable of travel that's a direct homage to the first jump to hyperspace scene in A New Hope.
  • Event Horizon is about a spaceship whose main system of FTL apparently can't decide whether it wants to be a jump drive or a warp drive in terms of Techno Babble, but in practice, it turns out to be a hyperdrive that took its crew into a cosmic horror dimension that killed them all, and then came back... changed by the experience.
  • In Contact, the alien plans create a device that allows Jodie Foster to travel to their world via a self-generated wormhole. James Woods' character goes to great pains to try to disprove her claims of travel because on Earth her elapsed time was immeasurable, but the elapsed time on her recording device was several hours.
  • In the Alien films, the ships must have some sort of FTL propulsion since Ripley expected to attend her daughter's 11th birthday on Earth and it doesn't make much sense to deploy Colonial Marines to assist a colony if it going to take them years or decades to arrive. The funny thing is that there are also stasis modules for space travel, which would be unnecessary if the ships achieved a high enough relativistic speed (due to Time Dilation).
    • According to the Colonial Marines Manual, the Conestoga-class uses a Romberg-Rockwell Cygnus 5 tachyon shunt hyperdrive, which causes the ship to shift part of itself into tachyon particles and accelerate faster than light. The thing about this drive however is that using it causes the people and other lifeforms inside to age rapidly. Hence the need for stasis pods to avoid the rapid ageing.
  • Similarly, in the The Fifth Element we see a commercial starship that "jumps to lightspeed" in order to travel to another solar system, and like the Alien films, they put the passengers to sleep during the voyage. Also the mass of evil manages to travel from another solar system to Earth in just 2 hours. Mind that the heroes also manage to arrive to Earth from lightyears away just a little earlier... The sleeping-while-in-hyperspace thing is Hand Waved as being "for your comfort," so perhaps in the Fifth Element 'verse Hyperspace Is a Scary Place for the conscious mind? Though the crew, Ruby Rhod, and Cornelius seem unaffected. Or the company operating the spaceship was too cheap to include consumables for passengers for a flight of a few hours.
  • In The Neverending Story II, the evil empress Xayide and her minions go underground, while the narrator explains that they will be traveling at "at the Speed of Darkness, which is faster than light".
  • In Moscow — Cassiopeia, they manage to achieve this when the local troublemaker accidentally sits on the controls, traveling a 200+ year journey in less than a minute. The people on Earth have 27 years passing normally, except for being unable to contact the ship the entire time. It is suggested they entered some form of subspace, hyperspace, or “tachyon spiral”. However in real life physics, that's exactly what you get when you travel at a very relativistic but still subluminal speed.
  • The Lost in Space film has the Robinson family ship equipped with a hyperdrive. However, it's impossible to set a destination without using a set of gates that guide a ship at FTL. Their original plan is to travel the slow way to the planned colony and build a receiving gate there for subsequent ships to travel to via FTL. It doesn't work out for them.
  • It is the subject of Interstellar, where humanity ventures on a newly discovered wormhole.
  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe's FTL system is unexplained in Guardians of the Galaxy, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 reveals that FTL travel uses a Portal Network with limited distance; destination is based on the number of jump points travelled. Some jump points are within planetary atmospheres, which can result in damaged ships crashing right into the planet, while others are in space. As for the number of jumps, the fewer the better; any sequence exceeding 50 jumps is known to be harmful to the occupants, to say nothing of the sequence of 700 jumps Rocket accidentally initiated. The relative speed of this travel method is never mentioned, with the only hint being featured in Thor: Ragnarok where Valkyrie mentioned that traveling this way from Xandar to Asgard would take around 18 months.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Andromeda uses slipstreams, a kind of portal drive, which requires a human pilot —well, an organic lifeform, anyway (a computer can only navigate slipstreams accurately if it has access to a one-of-a-kind perfect and complete map of all slipstreams, or the willingness to use less savory tactics) and is described as "not the best way to travel faster than light, just the only way". The series is also notable for having a complete lack of reliable FTL radio, meaning all messages have to be delivered by couriers. Background material mentions attempts at using slipstream to send messages, but packet loss was ridiculously high, and the attempts were abandoned.
  • Babylon 5:
    • The show allowed ships to travel faster than light using hyperspace, envisioned here as an alternate dimension in which travel is much more rapid. More advanced (or, at least, bigger) ships could enter and exit hyperspace at will, while less advanced ones could still travel faster than light using a network of stationary gateways which had been positioned throughout the galaxy.
    • The limitation is ship cost. While it was perfectly possible to mount Jump Drives on almost any vessel, the devices require a rare material (never found in inhabited star systems, according to the Expanded Universe) to function and consume large amounts of power. Since everywhere almost everyone wants to go has fixed Jump Gates anyway, and anywhere that gets lots of traffic can have on installed readily enough, in practice only military and some very special exploration ships have Jump Drives.
    • "Thirdspace" involves the discovery of an ancient gate to the formerly-unknown eponymous dimension, which initially looks like a faster version of hyperspace. Pity it happens to be inhabited by EldritchAbominations bent on finding a way into our universe and destroying it.
    • "The Lost Tales" introduces quantumspace, involving the use of previously-forbidden Vorlon technology. It really is faster than hyperspace, just extremely disconcerting to the traveler.
      John Sheridan: (to a reporter suffering her first visit to quantumspace) Was that a new dress?
  • Battlestar Galactica: The new series uses jump drives, which require complex calculations, and can leave a ship hopelessly lost if a jump is mistimed. The use of jump drives is actually critical to the plot of the whole series - since sensors are limited to light speed, it is impossible to detect a ship as it jumps, allowing any ship to instantly escape from its pursuers, or to appear and attack without warning. It also seems to work from anywhere: ships often jump mere feet from a planet's surface immediately after lifting off, or in one notable case immediately before pancaking on the ground after an orbital burn-in.
    • The Powers That Be tried to explain BSG's jump drives as non-FTL technology. Something about the ships not actually traveling faster than their normal speeds, but shortening the distance between the two points. However, this pretty much defines most drives in this trope - in that they aren't really moving you beyond light speed, but just make it so that you effectively are, usually using a wormhole/hyperspace/gravitational warping effect.
  • The original 1978 Battlestar Galactica drive systems weren't FTL in the traditional warp style. In fact, they weren't really FTL at all. The writers simply didn't understand the difference between interplanetary and interstellar distances. Once, Adama ordered the Galactica to accelerate to the speed of light, but nowhere did they claim to exceed it... Not that accelerating a ship to the speed of light is any less impossible with physics as we know it.
  • Blake's 7 gave the Federation "Time distort" drives, which appear to be a kind of warped space drive. The Liberator and Scorpio both employed even more exotic propulsion systems whose principles were different and unknown. However, the show never really made a big deal of these mechanics.
  • In Defiance, the Votan Sleeper Starship arks lacked faster than light travel, but the Omec Harvester possesses a faster-than-light drive, allowing them to hunt down the Votan ark to Earth after their own sleeper ark was sabotaged and the race left to die in the dying solar system because the Omec weren't very nice. In the series finale, Nolan hijacked the Omec ship and throws it on a Blind Jump to avert the genocide of the still sleeping Omec. The drive shoots out blue plasma toruses as it accelerates at sublight until a faster-than-light drive is spooled up, which uses converging beams to shove increasingly longer wormholes at the ship.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The TARDIS usually simply "materialises" at one location or another in space and time (sometimes even where it's meant to). It's also been observed to fly in normal space at the speed of plot, although this isn't as cheap on the effects budget. Travel outside our universe is also not unheard of. A fact which has been lampshaded by the Doctor himself on more than one occasion.
      • The TARDISes are literally aeons ahead of any other ship type anywhere, ever. To put this in perspective, the Doctor's TARDIS was already a museum piece when he first acquired it hundreds of years ago, and it's still "the technology of the gods" compared to almost anyone else. After all, the Time Lords were "the oldest civilisation" who had "turned time travel into a game for children" before humans had discovered the wheel; they also developed effectively unlimited teleportation technology "when the universe was less than half its present size". It's been implied several times in the show (and outright stated by the expanded universe) that the reason the Doctor's TARDIS looks comparatively primitive, with its reliance on mechanical switches and levers and tendency towards steampunk clunkiness, is a combination of the Doctor's preferred "desktop theme" and because it just makes it easier to interact with.
    • It seems that there are other methods of faster than light travel in the universe. Hyperspace is mentioned occasionally, as is warp drive. The Slitheen used a more exotic slipstream engine.
  • The later seasons of Eureka reveal that Fargo and Zane have been working on an FTL drive after the arrival of the relativistic ship sent out by Henry decades ago. The principle is unknown, but it appears to require a "catcher's mitt" at the destination to avoid slamming at the target at lightspeed (same as Henry's ship). Later, the technology is enhanced to the point where the object being sent doesn't actually need to have a drive (Deputy Andy is accidentally sent to Titan). Despite this, GD builds a ship, the Astraeus, with the FTL drive to explore Titan. It's not clear if there is ever a plan to send a ship to another star, as the show ends before any large-scale construction takes place.
  • Farscape has all three; "Hetch Drive" is dirt cheap and available to everyone, "Starburst" is available to Leviathans such as Moya, but wormholes - which act as a metadimensional Portal Network - can only be utilized with the assistance of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens, which they don't give lightly for really good reasons.
  • In The Orville, Union vessels like the Orville are powered by quantum drive engines. For Troping purposes these seem to function as a "warp drive", i.e. travel is not instantaneous, the ship can stop or change direction at will, and the ship can still interact with the rest of the universe (sensors, communications, and so on) while in transit. This is appropriate, as the series is an homage to Star Trek, and so FTL travel here works much as it does in the Trek 'verse. The actual technology behind the drive is not explored in depth (beyond use of the word "quantum", anyway).
  • Varies in Power Rangers depending on the season. They use Jump travel when not using a ship (Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Power Rangers Zeo, Power Rangers Turbo), and Warp travel with a ship (Power Rangers in Space, Power Rangers Lost Galaxy). Occasionally they use slower than light craft and wormholes.
  • In Red Dwarf, the ship explicitly breaks the light barrier at least once, and implicitly does so many times (as they are seen traveling between star systems in very short periods of time), but no attempt is ever made to explain how this is done.
    • The novel goes into a bit more detail: namely, it comes about from the fact that the ship has been slowly accelerating for the past three million years.
    • Also in the second series finale Holly invented what he thought was a jump drive, but actually took them to an Alternate Universe.
  • Space: 1999 was entirely due to Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: The MOON gets blasted out of not only Earth orbit, but the Solar System due to a frickin' EXPLOSION (somehow without being blasted apart by it), and is left Traveling at the Speed of Plot, such that it hangs around in the vicinity of an interesting planet just long enough for the crew to fix whatever is wrong with it and fail to settle there, and STILL get to the next star system by next week's episode.
  • Stargate:
    • Stargate SG-1:
      • The gates themselves act as portals, generating wormholes between planets. Ships too large to fit through a gate usually travel through hyperspace. However Earth-made hyperdrives are the textbook examples of Tim Taylor Technology,note  due to their use of highly unstable Naquadria.
      • Season 9 introduced supergates (really big stargate, needs a planet-mass black hole to power it) that were used to send ships from one galaxy to another quickly.
    • Stargate Atlantis had introduced the wormhole drive in the series finale. Apparently the Ancients have mounted an experimental drive system onto Atlantis that can generate a wormhole and cross interstellar distances in seconds. The downsides are that it uses insane amounts of energy and doing even a slight miscalculation will completely vaporize the ship. The follow-up novel Homecoming reveals that using the drive (not to mention the battle with the super-hive after) has resulted in heavy damage to the city's systems.
    • The starship Destiny from Stargate Universe seems to use a different method of travel that is slower/faster than normal hyperspace travel as the plot demands. The characters don't know much about it, so they just call it FTL.
  • Star Trek uses 'warp drive', which actually shunts part of a vessel's mass into subspace, then causes 'ripples' in subspace, which the vessel then 'surfs' on. The vessel itself remains stationary, and the space around the ship is shifted. See this link for more information. In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Kirk claims that going to warp within a solar system is a risky proposition only ever attempted in emergencies. Wormholes also exist, but are extremely unstable and unpredictable.
    • While this explanation is backed up by supporting materials, no explanation this technical is ever given on-screen, though a ship propelled by a drive system which is described in very similar terms (in "New Ground") is emphatically not a warp drive.
    • It has also been explained in later series that older designs of warp drives are capable of damaging subspace at higher speeds. The Intrepid Class was one of the first ship classes designed to avoid causing this problem, along with subsequent ships, although it is implied that older ships were eventually refit to mitigate this.
    • One fun fact: in the pilot episode it was referred to as 'Time Warp' and 'breaking the time barrier', suggesting that the drive had some sort of time distorting effect rather than anything to do with subspace. This was dropped by the time they made the second pilot episode.
    • Interestingly, a conversation between the ship's navigator and one of the (illusory) survivors of a crashed ship in the first pilot suggests that the Enterprise is one of a few new ships that "broke the time barrier" but that older Drives involve time dilation. Obviously later Star Trek contradicted this by introducing Zephram Cochrane, the inventor of Warp Drive, a 21st century human.
    • The Federation itself was born thanks to warp drive. When Zefram Cochrane invented and tested humanity's first warp-capable ship, a ship of Vulcans detected it and decided to make First Contact.
    • The reason Omega Particles are deemed so dangerous that the Federation is willing to ignore the Prime Directive to prevent them from appearing is that an unstable exploding Omega Particle (Omega Particles almost never remain stable for longer than a nanosecond) will permanently damage subspace (which makes warp travel impossible) in a region the size of a Borg Fleet. If this happened enough times, warp travel would become impossible and galactic civilization would be ruined. What makes things worse is that people still try to create them anyway because even a single stable Omega Particle could provide unlimited power.
    • It's demonstrated in Star Trek: Into Darkness that two ships flying alongside each other at warp speed can see and fire upon each other as though they were moving at sub-light speeds—debris and unfortunate crewmembers get left behind compared to the ships but are still traveling at FTL speeds—and a ship can be violently knocked out of warp if it strays too far off course, forcing it to instantly decelerate once it re-enters regular space even if its warp drive is still engaged.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the planet Bajor is nearby the only known stable wormhole in the galaxy. It gives a portal between the Alpha Quadrant (where all the major players in the Trek universe live) and the Gamma Quadrant some 70+ thousand light-years away. Starships sometimes transit through this wormhole, though at relatively low velocities as can be seen from the apparent speed of ships entering and exiting the wormhole relative to nearby objects. There are various unstable wormholes, which shift endpoint from time to time, or may trap objects inside them. An early TNG episode featured a wormhole that was stable at one end but moved periodically at the other.
  • Star Trek: Voyager:
    • As they were stranded on the other side of the galaxy, Voyager sought various means of getting home faster than possible using its (already highly-efficient) warp drive, ranging from transwarp and quantum slipstream technology, to a graviton catapult which can catapult a vessel across space in the time it takes to say "catapult a vessel across space."
    • In the episode "Course: Oblivion", the duplicate Voyager succeeds in creating an enhanced warp drive that is capable of bringing them to the Alpha Quadrant in two years. Unfortunately, because that Voyager and its crew were made of "silver blood" from the Demon-class planet they had left, warp core radiation is proven to be Toxic Phlebotinum for them, causing them to demolecularize and ruining their chances of ever reaching their destination (or even letting the real Voyager know about their amazing discovery).
  • Star Trek: Discovery introduces a unique method of instantaneous travel called the "displacement-activated spore hub drive", frequently just shortened to "spore drive". The drive navigates the so-called "mycelial network" that permeates not only our universe, but the entire multiverse (thus, it can be used to cross into other universes as well). Using the drive requires first growing special kind of fungal spores. In addition, it's discovered that a living navigator is necessary to correctly plot the course. Otherwise, only short jumps are reliable. They initially used a spaceborne tardigrade-like creature, but then the drive's creator Lieutenant Stamets used gene therapy to give himself some of the creature's DNA (which is illegal under Federation law, thanks to the Eugenics Wars), allowing him to be used as the navigator. Currently, only a single ship in Starfleet is equipped with the drive, as the Discovery's sister ship Glenn was destroyed. Given that this is an Interquel between ENT and TOS, it's implied that there will be a reason why the spore drive is non-viable for the rest of the fleet (or maybe the technology will be lost).

    Pinball 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The most common form of FTL is achieved by traveling through the Warp, a nightmarish dimension where the thoughts and emotions of sentient creatures give rise to dark gods and hordes of gibbering monstrosities. As such, ships require force fields to (hopefully) keep the crew from being eaten by daemons during Warp-jumps, and it takes members of a caste of psychic mutants called Navigators to pilot ships through the Immaterium. Since the Warp doesn't obey the laws of physics, vessels traveling through it move much faster than they would in realspace, but the exact ratio is fluid - sometimes a day in the Warp is equal to just under two weeks' travel in the material universe, while in other cases starships are lost for thousands of years, or emerge before they've left. Some charts even indicate that it's faster to travel across the galaxy than it is to hop to an adjacent sector. Further complicating matters are "currents" or "storms" in the Warp that can displace or destroy vessels, and unfortunately the only navigational aid is a psychic beacon on Holy Terra powered by the souls of thousands of psykers, which has been known to flicker and dim on occasion.
    • It's no surprise that other races have found alternatives to this form of travel. The Eldar have the Webway, a Portal Network that links points in realspace by tunnels through a dimension somewhere between the Warp and reality; however, this network is ancient and decaying, making some passages unusable or dangerous, while the Eldar's evil counterparts have built an entire civilization within it. The Tau, who lack a real psychic presence and therefore cannot fully enter the Warp, use special drives to briefly "dip" into it to boost themselves forward, which though much slower than proper Warp travel is much safer. The Tyranid hive fleets use a special bio-ship capable of slingshotting the fleet through space by harnessing a planet's gravity well, and the swarm typically goes into hibernation during the trip between systems. The Necrons use inertialess drives and large-scale teleportation technology eons more advanced than other races' FTL. And the Orks... use the Warp anyway, because either the metal teeth they've riveted to their ships' hulls will scare the daemons off, or they'll have a pretty entertaining fight on the way to their next conquest.
  • The role-playing game Traveller equipped its starships with the Jump Drive. In terms of this trope, Jump Drive was really a warp drive, moving ships through "jump-space" or "hyper-space." The catch? No jump could cover a distance of less than one parsec, so Jump Drives were useless for in-system travel. Also, the time spent in jump-space was independent of the distance travelled. Each jump lasted about one week (subjective and objective times were the same), no matter how far one jumped.
    • Some of this was changed in later editions: You could travel less than a parsec; the jump still takes about 168 hours. However, you retain your speed-vector when you arrive, so you actually continuously accelerate to the point where you jump, and decelerate upon arrival, which burns a lot of fuel. And even more fuel if your calculation isn't perfect and you need to adjust the course. And still more fuel is used by the jump itself. And you need to be about 100 diameters away from a body because of gravitation (which would make for a safe jump 1,274,000 km away from Earth, somewhat more than 3 times the distance to the Moon). And due to the fact that in the Traveller-universe normally only one planet per system is interesting, this isn't really useful in most cases.
  • Inverted in the Spelljammer D&D setting, where game designers made up their own cosmic structure and laws of physics ("Everything you know about space is wrong.") instead of trying to talk their way around our universe's. Even then, superluminal travel happens only out of "normal" space — in-sphere spelljamming speed is "merely" 100 mln miles/day (4,166,666.7 mph), so even "double spelljamming speed" (a very rare case) shouldn't cause visible blue/red shifts.
  • The hex-map wargame Starfire, which David "Honor Harrington" Weber has used as the setting for four novels, features "warp points" — naturally-occurring portals through space that allow FTL transit from one star system to another. Strategic maps of known space look more like a text-adventure-game map than a star map, because it's warp links, not physical distance, that determines how "far" two systems are "apart." If more than one spacecraft tries to transit through a given warp point at the same time, there's a chance that they will "interpenetrate" and blow each other apart.
    • There are also "Closed" warp points that are only detectable from one end, which the Bugs exploit to sneak attack Alpha Centauri
  • The Void Engineers of Mage: The Ascension had jump drive technology that was incredibly finicky to use. Odds were that a ship using it would leave pieces behind just as often as it came through intact.
  • GURPS: Spaceships telescopes all FTL into two groups. First the Stardrive system which can be Jump or Warp and secondly the Jump Gate system which creates whatever the local equivalent of wormholes is and is a portal drive.
  • The RPG 2300 AD (made by the same company as Traveller, but in a different setting) used the "stutterwarp", a method of going between stars (and traveling in-system) by making instantaneous micro-jumps. The faster the engines could cycle, the faster you could "move" through real space, up to 3.5 light years per day). The system was limited because the engines built up a technobabble charge that had to be discharged in a sufficiently steep gravity before the ship traveled a maximum of 7.7 light years. This meant that you couldn't directly get anywhere more than 7.7 light years away without having to stop somewhere around a sufficiently massive object. In addition, stutterwarp efficiently dropped off rapidly in a gravity well - if you got too close to a planet or star, you wouldn't be able to maintain orbital velocity. The game used a more-or-less accurate local star map around Earth, and the distance limitation meant travel was restricted to set routes, which sometimes formed choke points that were worth fighting over, and colonies at the end of their routes who were literally the ass-end of nowhere because explorers had nowhere else to go.
  • The Rifts: Phase World expansion setting has FTL drives directly affected by gravity, with the drives' maximum speed increasing the fewer gravitational influences there are on the trip. This has the effect of making travel between three local galaxies just as fast as traveling through the galaxies themselves, since there aren't as many stars slowing you down on the way.
  • The BattleTech universe features JumpShips capable of somehow creating and magnifying a 'rip' in the fabric of space-time and thereby jumping distances up to thirty light years in an instant...but which are otherwise generally (there are exceptions) only equipped with station-keeping drives that allow them to hold their position at the jump point while recharging, a process that generally takes a week or more. (Occasionally an enterprising military leader will arrange for faster travel by setting up a 'command circuit' with passengers and cargo transferring to a new and fully charged JumpShip immediately upon arrival, possibly several times in succession.) The Kearny-Fuchida Drive is highly sensitive to local gravity gradients and thus not generally usable within several astronomical units of something as massive as a star, though suitably daring crews can take advantage of "pirate points" (or LaGrange Points in other parlance) in the system, where the presence of other celestial bodies results in their respective gravitational influences canceling out just right, to jump in closer than that. (Incidentally, the vast void of interstellar space is in theory perfectly safe to jump around in. One reason this isn't usually done, aside from the obvious one of no crew wanting to casually risk even a hypothetical drive failure stranding them light-years away from any human help all by themselves, is that most ships' primary method of recharging their K-F drive depends on solar sails...)
  • Star Drive: The titular Star Drive allows faster than light travel. How does it work? It just does.
  • Fading Suns: Travel between solar systems is accomplished through a network of Jumpgates left behind by the Ur. No other method is possible, since any ships traveling through interstellar space is inevitably eaten by Daemons and Void Krakens. Which of course raises the question of how the Gates got there in the first place.
  • Space 1889 is technically an aversion, but one article in Challenge magazine ("Science Marches On" in #68, for those curious) did in fact have an Ether Flyer based FTL drive as a high tier item for players to invent. It works simply by accelerating faster than light, and won't work within 10k kilometers of a planet (in addition to any other limitations the GM deigns to impose).
  • Pathfinder: The rare "Starflight" ability allows a creature to fly between solar systems in a matter of weeks or months. It's possessed by beings like Outer Dragons, some Eldritch Abominations, and a few Mythic Wizards. That said, Teleportation magic lets people reach other planets instantaneously if they know what they're aiming at.

    Theme Parks 
  • In the E.T. Adventure ride at Universal Studios, E.T. sends the "bicycles" the guests ride on into hyperspace in order to reach E.T.'s homeworld, which was previously said to be over three million light years away from Earth.
  • Space Mountain at Disneyland ends with the riders going into hyperspace in order to get back to the loading station.

    Web Comics 
  • Schlock Mercenary has both a set of "Wormgates" monopolized by an ancient mega-corporation and conspiracy, and the relatively new - or rather, rediscovered - "teraport" (jump drive/teleporter), which forces a subject through billions of tiny wormholes instead of one big one. The latter is a receiverless teleporter in a military SF setting, with all that implies.
    • Among other things, it implies a desperate research project to find a way to jam the teraport drive, preventing ships from entering or leaving a region via teraport. Fortunately for the survival of galactic civilization, though often unfortunately for the survival of the eponymous mercenaries, the project succeeded.
    • As far as communications goes, there's communications through hypernet relays - a Galaxy-Wide-Web. The signal explicitly takes less time to travel across the light-years than through the copper circuitry of the machinery, but there are still no FTL sensors. This is used for dramatic effect at least twice: once to facilitate learning about what happened in a Late to the Tragedy situation (fifty-two minutes late, specifically, so they park a sensor fifty-two light-minutes away to get a look), once in a situation where Kevyn realizes that the enemy, whom he is parleying with (and whom is about a light-minute away), had fired missiles at him while they were negotiating.
    • The comic implies at a few points that causality holds throughout the galaxy because of all the teraporting and wormgates. Notably, when they start going to Andromeda, they're initially out of sync.
  • Originally, the starslip drive in Starslip worked as a jump drive that shifted the ship into a nearly-identical Alternate Universe where it was already at the desired location. Eventually it was discovered that one can, with sufficient slips, wind up in a substantially different timeline; this was the Starslip Crisis that gave the comic its original name.
    • After narrowly escaping the destruction of the universe, the crew of the Fuseli end up in another one where the starslip drive has just been outlawed and replaced by the stellar superlinear propulsion (STARSLIP for short)) drive, which exploits the fact that there's no shorter distance between two places than a straight line, by finding an even straighter line. This functions as a Warp Drive, rather than a Jump Drive.
  • The aliens in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! have specifically stated that they do not have FTL. The Nemesites are extremely long-lived and do have ubiquitous relativistic-speed travel. Their empire's capital orbits a brown dwarf star "near" Earth's solar system note —hence, our solar system sees a lot of traffic. There are at least two inhabited worlds in our system besides Earth; Butane, an undetected world in the Kuiper Belt colonized by a prehuman Earth civilization (the dragons), and Fleen, an asteroid inhabited by Officer Zodboink's people (whether or not their race is native to Fleen has not yet been revealed).
  • The Freefall universe has FTL travel, although the author admits to being uncomfortable about including it in an otherwise fairly hard series. According to the manual, "The starships in Freefall make pockets of lower space time density, increasing the rate at which they go through time." Thus, they move very fast in real time but at a normal rate in subjective time, necessitating cold sleep for the passengers and most of the crew. When live cargo and/or timeliness are not at stake, they simply accelerate a cargo vessel to a decent fraction of light speed and fling it at the target system. The fact that it's called the DAVE (Dangerous And Very Expensive) Drive should tell you all you need to know.
  • Spacetrawler offers one of the most ridiculous technobabble explanations for FTL travel ever. Spaceships travel at Greased Light Speed, "which is attained when you slip between light particles and go much faster than them". Friction between light particles cancels out time dilation. Also, the Mirrhgoots are on the verge of perfecting Greased Dark Light Speed, which promises to be even faster. It works on the principle of riding the darkness inside the light particles (since light particles are about 97% darkness).
    Christopher Baldwin: Hahahaha! Man, that was a fun stupid idea to write.
  • In Westward, the eponymous Cool Starship travels through Escherspace (named after Maurits Cornelius Escher), which functions as a variety of Jump Drive. It is a Black Box technology that no-one quite understands, except for the mysterious alien Phobos. As a result, some characters prefer to think of it as a kind of magic.
    • While an Escherspace jump itself is nearly instantaneous, many weeks of travel using conventional engines are still required as part of every trip, to ensure that the ship is at a safe distance from any massive astronomical body — if used carelessly, Escherspace jumps can release enough energy to alter the orbits of nearby planets.
    • During a jump, everyone aboard must take shelter in special "normalization booths"; the author has stated that this "creates a good separation between travel that's normal — adhering to the laws of physics — and travel that's abnormal, unnatural, and dangerous."
  • Among the Chosen requires psychic operators connected with hypertech for FTL travel.
  • Homestuck has beings of sufficient psionic power being able to push vessels into FTL travel with their mental abilities (though it ends badly for psionics due to the massive amount of energy it requires). The Condesce exploited this method of bypassing the laws of physics to turn her fleet of starships into a galaxy conquering army. This is one of the more realistic portrayals of FTL travel, as even at sublight speeds jumps still take quite a bit of time (the biggest jump seen in the comic takes over three years, though time dilation was reversed in that case). Jade even gives a Lampshade Hanging on this in Act 6, noting that FTL travel is a completely different concept from teleportation.
  • In tinyraygun, Warp Drives seem to be the order of the day, since its activated by a Big Red Button simply labeled "Faster", and ends up getting knocked off course by strange space egg colliding with the ship.
  • The nature and possession of the Ring Drive is one of the main plot concerns of the sci-fi comic Drive. Humans didn't invent it, they copied it from a crashed alien ship. As a result, it's something of a Black Box to anyone other than the race that created it, but it seems to be a mix of Warp and Jump drives, making many tiny jumps along a path in such a way that you still need to worry about navigational hazards or pursuit.
  • In Captain Ufo, the Widowpunisher (and supposedly all other spaceship in the universe) FTL speed is called "hyperblur" in-universe. The ship opens a wormhole to it's destinations and travels through it. In season two we see that the inside of the wormhole is a tunnel-like place, and that trvalling through it is not instant, so it's a kind of hyperdrive,
  • In Outsider, ships travel faster-than-light using a hyperspace jump drive which nearly instantaneously propels them to their destination via positive (+)hyperspace. A successful jump requires precise alignment and and calculations, where any misstep usually leads to the loss of the ship. Jumping is only possible between neighbouring star systems and conventional intra-system space travel between jump zones linking to other systems is required. Travelling a distance of approx. 200 light years in this way takes weeks or months. The author provides an in-depth explanation of how FTL works in this universe on a special page.
  • The titular Drive is a ring-shaped structure that is hypothesized by La Familia, the extended family of the human who discovered a Maker starship with a "ring drive" and used it to become Emperor of humanity, to work by folding space, though they don't know for sure. One of the Makers who do know how it works called it a "Singularity Drive".

    Web Original 
  • Nat One Productions's story-line Denazra both invokes and averts this trope. A gate network of artificial wormholes allows FTL travel between settled worlds, but there is no other known way to travel faster than the speed of light. When the Coalition wants to recruit a new species to join the fight against the denazra, they have to send space ships on lengthy journeys across the interstellar gulf.
  • The Jump Drive and Jump Gates enable this in Nexus Gate.
  • One of the central tenets of the Orion's Arm setting is the absence of FTL — except for wormholes. These are big, expensive, must be deployed to the desired desination at speeds much slower than light before they can be used, and need to be traversed carefully lest the traveller be crushed by g-forces. They must also be located in "asymptotically flat spacetime", that is, a minimum of something like 100AU from the nearest star. That's a hell of a long way (as a sense of scale, Pluto varies between ~29 AU and ~48 AU from our sun). Although theoretically a single wormhole could bridge tens of lightyears, you're still going to take several weeks at least to get from the wormhole to anywhere interesting (and vice versa) using even the best sublight engine technology generally available to humans. A lot of the time it's just easier to go the long way (and since most life-forms and/or AI are effectively immortal anyway, time isn't as pressing an issue as it seems).
    • The main reason a hard sci-fi setting includes wormholes is that they're an Acceptable Break from Reality — you can't really have the interstellar civilizations the setting is built around without some form of faster-than-light infrastructure, so the writers went with the most realistic alternative they could find. Because modern science has yet to demonstrate that wormholes are impossible, OA considers them fair game.
    • Causality is protected in the OA universe - if you try to build a wormhole system that can form a closed timelike curve (i.e. allow time travel) the wormholes undergo something called Visser collapse. Given that this destroys both mouths of the wormhole and, from a distance, could be mistaken for a small supernova, you do not want to be within a couple of lightyears of a wormhole if this happens.
    • Most of the wormholes used in Orion's Arm are actually comm-gauge wormholes - microscopic wormholes used to send data but not big enough to send anything material through. These are significantly easier to manufacture and more stable than wormholes ships can pass through, which require enormous resources to build and maintain. They can also be located much closer to gravity wells than traversable wormholes. You still don't want to be standing close by if one collapses though...
  • Tech Infantry gets around the speed-of-light limit via a hyperspace system inspired by those seen in Babylon 5 and Honor Harrington.
  • In The Pentagon War, "hyper holes" provide an FTL portal network. They are created by aiming two very expensive bombs directly at one other from two different star systems, and detonating them simultaneously — a difficult feat even for a whole government to pull off. At the time of the story, only 5 pairs of linked hyper holes exist.
  • The technology is present in the Registry of Time universe, although not as fast as some other examples. In one story it takes 20 years to reach a destination.
  • FutureTimeline.net predicts that humans will achieve faster than light travel using the Alcubierre Drive by the year 1000000. But then again, it's clear that by that time they had given up on trying to make accurate predictions.
  • Phaeton has photon drives, which are described as the perfect FTL device.
  • The gods from Beyond the Impossible can’t travel faster than light, so they really need those starships. Except Hermes, who can teleport wherever he wants and is even called “the god who makes travel distances meaningless”.
  • The Jenkinsverse has two main types of FTL:
    • Apparent Linear Velocity (ALV) drive: effectively an Alcubierre Drive with the most dangerous drawbacks fixed. Its velocity is measured in kilolights (and in one case, a megalight), but there is a significant buildup of static energy á'la Mass Effect that has to be discharged into gas giants. On cleared lanes this buildup is significantly smaller, effectively creating Hyperspace Lanes.
      • Corti sealed drives are a significantly more efficient and faster version of the ALV-drive. How this is achieved is a highly guarded secret.
    • Wormholes need a beacon on both ends to work, but the displacement is instantaneous. The rest of the galaxy mainly uses it to relocate space stations, but humans have enthusiastically integrated it into their space combat doctrine.
    • Humans, not being satisfied with the available choices, found a third way in the form of jump arrays. These are capable of jumping a volume of space to a similarly sized array anywhere in the galaxy.
  • SCP Foundation, SCP-2872 ("A Fast Horse"). SCP-2872 is a thoroughbred stallion racehorse. After it broke out of SCP Foundation containment it traveled into space and accelerated to faster than the speed of light. It is currently heading for the constellation Equuleus.
    • With clever usage of XACTs, the Foundation is capable of sending spacecraft to remote regions of space.

    Western Animation 
  • In Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers, two aliens give humanity access to a FTL device called the Hyperdrive in exchange for our help in vanquishing the series' Big Bad, the Queen of the Crown.
  • In the Animaniacs finale "Star Warners", the Bicentennial Falcon flies past a sign that says LIGHT SPEED STRICTLY ENFORCED.
  • Many of the staff writers on Futurama have physics qualifications, so they felt uncomfortable allowing spaceships to travel faster than light. Instead, with one exception which was used for a physics joke, they had scientists increase the speed of light. In the same episode where lightspeed was mentioned to be greater the ships are said to move the universe around themselves.
    • One of the Comedy Central episodes had the Professor outfit the Planet Express ship with a short-range "dimensional drift" jump drive that took it through the fourth dimension.
  • In South Park, mankind accidentally discovers "warp speed" when Randy loads a piece of exotic matter stolen from the Large Hadron Collider on a toy car, which propels it outside the Earth at FTL speeds. Unfortunately by the end of the episode Earth is isolated from the rest of the universe.
  • Starfire in Teen Titans is apparently capable of achieving faster-than-light speeds by herself, if her planet-hopping in "Transformation" is anything to go by. Of course, in the first episode aired (third in production order), she and Robin are just finishing a conversation on this subject as they enter the living room.
    Starfire: ...and that is the secret to traveling faster than light!
    • Then again, this is the DC Universe, so that little tidbit isn't exactly very secret.
  • Implied in the The Magic School Bus episode "Gets Lost In Space", where the bus flew from Earth to the Sun to Pluto and back inside a school day. Even under ideal conditions (i.e. if all ninenote  planets were aligned, and they did the trip without stopping), this would require FTL capability. Made explicit in the star life cycle episode, where the bus crosses a distance of a billion billion miles (over 17 million light years, which would put it well outside the Milky Way) in minutes. Then again, the bus is described as being magic for a reason.
  • In an Al Brodax Popeye cartoon, Popeye is recruited to spend sixty days in a space capsule by himself in an effort to gauge how long he can sustain himself without going crazy. The capsule gets doused within with aerosol spinach, causing it to blast off into space so fast (sixty times as normal, says one of the scientists) it causes earth time to go backwards.
  • In 3-2-1 Penguins!, the Rockhopper, the Penguins' spaceship, has the ability to travel to distant planets in only a few hours.
  • In the I Am Weasel episode "The Magnificent Motorbikini", the titular vehicle travels faster than the speed of light and eventually propels Weasel and Baboon into another dimension.
  • In the Ready Jet Go! special "Back to Bortron 7", the Propulsions convert their house back into a starship for a visit to their home planet. Whereas their usual saucer has used Interplanetary Hyperdrive to bring the kids on tours within the solar system, this much longer journey requires Interstellar Superdrive. Details on how it works aren't given, but their journey is accompanied by a flashier, more colorful variant on the light-speed F/X from Star Wars.
  • The Lightfold Drive in Final Space allowed starships (including smaller spaceships, and even eject pods) to go from one part of the galaxy to another in a matter of minutes. Usually involves spinning the Lightfold Drive at hyperspeed, this works by having the Drive "bend" the light it emits at a speed so fast, it literally bends the gravity and space it occupied, immediately propelling the ship to its destination. This is accompanied by the colorful spinning vortex of light everytime the ship "lightfolds", and is noted that the "light" in the Lightfold Drives can vaporizes anything it touches at full charge.

    Real Life 
  • Quantum mechanics does allow for a "faster than light" connection between two particles in quantum entanglement. Unfortunately it is not actually possible to send information (let alone matter) FTL with this method, since it's impossible for an observer to determine whether an entangled particle state is due to the particle partner's involvement or by the simple act of observing the particle. It's a simple matter of probabilities.
  • During the writing of his novel Contact, Carl Sagan reportedly asked a fellow scientist (none other than Kip Thorne, a leading expert in relativistic astrophysics) if FTL travel would be possible without breaking the laws of physics, as he didn't want to do it in his novel. The scientist sat down and wrote a few equations which became the basics of the wormhole network seen in the book and film. Sagan himself was optimistic about this and thought that a sufficiently advanced civilization could build and maintain a network of these wormholes.
  • It is theoretically possible for an object to move FTL if it has imaginary mass, in fact it would only be able to travel faster than light. Particles that only travel faster than light and have imaginary mass would be called tachyons. There is, however, no experimental evidence of their existence - which is also rendered de facto impossible due to certain instabilities it would provoke in quantum field theories.
    • The relativistic mass-energy equation doesn't completely rule out faster than light travel. It only rules out the possibility of faster than light travel when both the mass and energy have no imaginary component. For it to be possible some or all of the mass and energy have to be imaginary. It also doesn't rule out travel where the velocity vector either is or includes an imaginary number.
      • One Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel (Time's Enemy, if I recall correctly) used this as a plot point. In the novel a derelict Defiant is found that had been trapped inside a comet for several thousand years. In the novel it's stated that something in the warp core changes by a factor of i (i.e. the square root of -1) every time a starship goes to warp. Early in the novel it was determined that whatever would happen to the Defiant would occur either during or after the next time the Defiant went to warp.
  • The Alcubierre Drive is a semi-serious proposal for a system of FTL travel that involves propelling a bubble of warped space at FTL speeds. The ship itself remains stationary in the center of the bubble. Star Trek's Warp Drive is based on a similar ideanote . Of course, actually building such a drive system is well beyond the realm of present-day science, if it is possible at all. The fact that it would take several orders of magnitude more energy than exists in the mass-energy equivalent of the entire universe to move a small spaceship across the Milky Way galaxy doesn't help, either.
    • The "warp drive," at least in some forms, has been ruled out as a "practical" FTL drive in 2009. A physicist named Stefano Finazzi and several colleagues published a paper showing that when particles in the interstellar medium intersect with the bubble of moving spacetime at FTL velocities, Hawking radiation will turn the temperature up to 10^32 Kelvin, which is hotter than the 2x10^12 K at which protons and neutrons break down into a quark-gluon plasma.
      • "Some forms," because the paper makes some assumptions that need not apply to Alcubierre's construction. For example, they postulate that if one were to make use of quantum inequalities to obtain negative energy (which is needed to make Alcubierre spacetime), then the thickness of the bubble wall must be extremely small (that of the Planck length). Their argument doesn't apply if you can find matter with negative energy without resorting to the Quantum Inequalities. In fact, some have suggested that Dark Energy may actually be made of such stuff (look up phantom fields).
      • Some physicists have suggested that a starship equipped with a warp bubble drive would be impossible to steer, control, or stop, and that if it did stop, whatever was in front of it would instantly be destroyed.
    • This video by Lawrence Krauss provides a nice enough layman's explanation on what it means to build a real-world warp drive, even outside of Alcubierre's own flavor of it.
    • That could be worked around, say, by deflecting said particles with another exotic spacetime geometry, shields or whatever. One of the variations on it, by van den Broek, requires the mass-energy equivalent of a few grams. However, the concept itself was proven to be impractical by Krasnikov when he demonstrated the surface of the warp bubble to be causally disconnected from its interior (effectively cutting the crew off from controlling, creating or even stopping the ship). Further theoretical exercises (Clark, Hiscock and Larson) have shown that there exists formation of event-horizon-like structures along the warp bubble - analogous to a Mach cone - and since, in 2+ 1 spacetimes, the vacuum stress-energy of a quantized massless field diverges on the horizon as it forms, it is strongly suggested that the same phenomenon would occur in 3+ 1. The Alcubierre drive, as a concept for potential technology, is long dead. Similarly-spirited alternatives may not be, however.
      • 2+1 dimensional space-times have their own problems; namely, general relativity cannot exist in a 2+1 space-time. In order to prevent every particle from collapsing into a black hole, a 2+1 space-time must either have a gravitational constant of exactly zero or an infinite speed of light. This is because the gravitational force would vary as the inverse first power of distance, meaning that gravitational binding energy would either be zero (in the case of a zero gravitational constant) or infinite (in the case of any non-zero gravitational constant, no matter how small).
    • The initial bubble theorized by Alcubierre would produce no thrust on its own, and most thrusters would be hard pressed to get the ball rolling (pardon the pun), never mind getting it to stop. The ideal shape is that of a drop, but that presents its own problems.
    • A reexamination of the Alcubierre equations has shown that changing the geometry of the generating ring to a toroid, and thickening the bubble's walls to a millimetre, would lower the energy requirements for a given vessel and speed by a factor of about 10^18. NASA is currently running experiments to determine if an Alcubierre-like space can be created in the laboratory. If such spaces can be generated, a speed of slightly over 1% of c could be produced with a steady power output of approximately 1 kilowatt. By way of comparison, the fastest spacecraft yet created has achieved a maximum speed of 0.03% c. Of course, however, thickening the walls ignores the very basic issue of why they needed to be so thin in the first place: they are required to respect constraints on the existence of negative energy density, so until a preprint is released we can only hope the authors did their homework.
  • Way out there on the fringe of science is Heim Theory. It's a possible theory of quantum gravity that has as one of its consequences the possibility of constructing a vehicle that can achieve FTL velocity, as well as artificial gravity to boot. The theory has been very obscure until very recently, and it has yet to undergo significant peer-review (so take it with a planetoid of salt), but it does show some promise. It's also interesting to note that the theory bears striking resemblances to the FTL mechanics used in Mass Effect.
    • It's important to notice the fact that, of the few clear predictions that Heim theory DOES give (most of it is extremely obfuscated), like the mass of certain particles, most are wrong by several standard deviations. Make that planetoid a large moon.
      • "That's no moon!"
  • In a fission nuclear reactor particles routinely travel faster than light. ...Well faster than the speed of light in water. Light isn't the fastest thing around when it isn't going through a vacuum.
  • When the space shuttle Columbia tragically burned up during atmospheric re-entry, a caption at the bottom of one CNN report briefly read: "Shuttle traveling nearly 18 times speed of light." (It was a mistake, of course; the caption was meant to read "nearly 18 times speed of sound.") Much gallows humor ensued, e.g., "No wonder the Shuttle broke apart, they had a warp core breach!"
  • In September 2011, scientists at CERN famously announced that they observed neutrino particles moving faster than the speed of light. The scientists themselves readily admitted from the start that a lot more testing would be needed to confirm this claim — and it turned out that they were right to do so. In the Spring of 2012, it was revealed that the FTL observation was caused by a loose fibre-optic cable, and adjusting for this technical problem revealed that the neutrinos never broke the light-speed barrier after all. The error is understandable given the complexity of the equipment involved, and the scientists should be given credit for being cautious about their "discovery" from the start.
    • Fermilab recorded similar results during at least one experiment in the 1990s but that one never got much press because the neutrinos only appeared to be going faster than light by such a tiny amount that it was considered to be within the less advanced equipment of the day's acceptable margin of error.
  • Phase and group velocities for electromagnetic or quantum mechanical waves are sometimes higher than light speed. However, this still does not allow for the transmission of actual information faster than the speed of light.
    • You can think of that as a shadow play right in front of a light focus: since the shape of the shadow is larger than the object casting the shadow, if it's moving fast enough, a point in the shadow will appear to be moving faster. That's independent of the time it takes the shadow to react to the object moving.
  • The Casimir Effect should create regions of "less dense space" where the innate speed of light should be greater than the speed of light in "normal" vacuum. Right now it's the only confirmed mechanism capable of creating FTL at least in theory. Alas, while the Casimir effect itself has been experimentally confirmed (and resulted in a Nobel Prize) directly testing if it results in FTL is not possible right now.
  • The Universe may have experimented after the Big Bang a process named cosmic inflation, that expanded it a lot (10ˆ26 times, and probably even much morenote ) in very tiny fractions of second. Nonetheless it was just space, carrying whatever existed by them with it, that expanded so. The same, space expanding faster than light, happens with standard expansion of the Universe where galaxies beyond the cosmic horizon recede at speeds higher than the speed of light, becoming undetectable with time.
  • In the jets of some quasars and other active nuclei of galaxies, FTL speeds can be appreciated. It's, however, totally illusory and matter there moves "just" at near-light speed.


Alternative Title(s): FTL Travel, FTL, Warp Drive, Faster Than Light

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